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Depth of Customization

Cecil Adkins Posted:
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From the beginning, Paragon Studios' City of Heroes has been known and praised for one thing above all else: its incredible array of customization options. These range in scope from something as simple as choosing the exact color you'd like your cape to be, to as complex as making your very own missions and bad guys to fight.

No game before or since has had anywhere near the same ability as City of Heroes to make your character appear just as you would like him or her to appear. City of Heroes' costume creator was and continues to be an unparalleled gem in the MMORPG world. The character creator in Champions Online, due out soon from City of Heroes' original development studio, may end up rivaling that of its predecessor, but that won't take away from City of Heroes' achievement.

The character creator in City of Heroes was robust to begin with, but that hasn't stopped the developers from adding hundreds of new costume items since launch. Nearly every update to the game - called "Issues" in reference to the comic book feel of the game - has featured at least a few new costume pieces. And ever since the game's second update, characters have had the option of switching between several different costumes on the fly.

Recently, City of Heroes has added yet another way to customize the look of your character, in the form of "costume change emotes." These are special emotes that are used when switching costumes. Want to have a bolt of lightning strike your character and change his form or look ala Captain Marvel? Done. Going for a Jekyll and Hyde feel, where a mild-mannered scientist drinks a formula and becomes a monster? You can do that now! Some costume change emotes, like some new costume pieces, are tied to specially themed $10 costume/power/emote packs called "SuperBoosters," but many are part of free updates as well.

The latest of these "SuperBoosters" focuses on Science, and even allows players to have multiple body types for their various costumes. Want a small character who can suddenly transform into a giant hulk of a creature? That's possible now. How about a character who has both male and female forms? Yes, you can. This gender switching has not been without its critics; there are some who think it has no place in a teen-rated game, but these people are missing the point. As one of the developers said, gender switching is only a problem if you sexualize it; there's nothing inherently wrong with it. And it adds yet another way for some players to make their perfect character.

City of Heroes even gives characters a place to go and hang out, make plans for upcoming missions, or find teleporters to other areas of the game. That place is a supergroup base, and once again it's something that can be customized to suit the designer's wants and needs. Bases were introduced with the City of Villains expansion (and the Issue 6 update to City of Heroes) and have become an integral part of the game for many players.

Not content with merely being able to make your own character into whatever you want him or her to be, or in making your supergroup base cozy and comfortable? The City of Heroes Mission Architect, introduced in the Issue 14 update, allows players to take on the role of mission designer and create their own story arcs! With the ability to use the majority of mission maps that exist in the game, and to write all dialogue and story clues, the Mission Architect is yet another innovation introduced by City of Heroes.

Not only can the Mission Architect be used to make your own missions, but it can also be a way to introduce your very own custom enemies. Using the same character creator that is used to create player characters, players can make enemies and even enemy groups for use in their missions. The game's Issue 15 update even introduced the ability to customize standard enemies (i.e., developer created baddies) by changing their costume colors, names, and descriptions. What other game allows the player to have so much control over what you do and even the enemies you fight?

But the developers of City of Heroes are not content to rest on their laurels. In fact, they really can't afford to. They've been the only entry in the superhero MMORPG genre for more than five years now, so anyone looking for a different kind of MMORPG among the dozens of fantasy and several science fiction games would inevitably check out City of Heroes to see what it had to offer. Now, though, we're coming up on the release of Champions Online (due September 1st from Cryptic Studios, the original development studio of City of Heroes) and DC Universe Online, coming next year from Sony Online Entertainment.

Suddenly a genre which has belonged solely to City of Heroes is about to be a bit more crowded, and City of Heroes will need to step up their game to compete with the upstarts.

Fortunately for fans of City of Heroes, the five-year-old game shows no signs of slowing down, even in the customization department. For years now, players have clamored for power customization, i.e., the ability to recolor or otherwise customize their characters' powers. One of the key features being touted by Champions Online is just this, power customization. Not to be outdone, Paragon Studios recently announced Issue 16: Power Spectrum, which will bring this long-awaited feature to City of Heroes, nearly negating what could have been a key difference between it and Champions Online.

Issue 16: Power Spectrum will allow players to recolor powers from nearly every powerset for which this ability would make sense. Along with weapons customization, which was introduced in the Issue 11 update, this means nearly every powerset in the game can be made to look very different from the way it did at the game's launch. A couple of powersets which don't have energy beams or force fields to recolor (Martial Arts and Super Strength) will be getting alternate animations, meaning there's something for just about everyone when it comes to power customization.

Some may think I'd be stretching the idea of customization too far if I included the Going Rogue expansion pack as yet another example of City of Heroes' ongoing efforts to allow players to make characters the way they want them to be. I disagree. City of Heroes: Going Rogue will be the first paid expansion since City of Villains in 2005, and will finally let heroes fall from grace and become bad guys, and villains see the light and become good guys. If you've ever wanted to play a Mastermind in Paragon City or a Scrapper in the Rogue Isles, your wish will come true with Going Rogue.

Not content to let its original status as "the only superhero MMORPG" define it, City of Heroes leads the way in terms of character customization. This should position them well for the fight among superhero MMORPGs that is about to take place.


Cecil Adkins